By Henry Abbott
Basketball godfather Sonny Vaccaro has been openly supportive -- instrumental even -- in encouraging some of the finest young basketball players in the U.S. to skip college to play overseas.
Brandon Jennings was experiment subject #1, and endured a lot of criticism for his poor play in Europe last year. Jennings himself has gone to some trouble to express how difficult a year it was, not getting on the court much in Italy. He was drafted tenth overall, after leaving high school a year earlier as one of the top three names in his class.
Jennings is looking mighty good in the NBA, however. If, instead of Rookie of the Year they handed out hardware for Rookie of the Week, Jennings would have a new trophy on his way. (His two-game PER, not that it much matters, is 21.2).
Nonetheless, his European experiment appears to have been a beneficial experience. Jennings got a chance to play and improve, not to mention a serious ego check. Although he didn't put up great numbers in Rome, his learnings from playing there enabled him to be among the league's readiest rookies, even though he never played one collegiate game.
That, clearly, will be food for thought for other youngsters who contemplate the same decision. In fact, it eventually could undermine the NBA's efforts to raise the age minimum from 19 to 20 years old, because it doesn't really help the league if its future stars are laboring in obscurity in Europe rather than building fans in the NCAA. If Jennings does end up as a surprise rookie of the year winner, the current trickle of prep stars across the Atlantic could quickly become a torrent.